So I’m in a movie theater in Arkansas with my wife and some family members watching the new Spiderman film, and to be honest, I’m less than entertained. Suddenly, my wife turns to me and says, “Is it just me or is this kind of boring?” I nod in agreement. No, it’s not just you! This movie is boring! In fact if we hadn’t been with family members, I probably would have asked my wife if we could leave. But, since this was not an option, we managed to trudge through the rest of the film. A film that, in my not-so-humble opinion, went from being dull to laughably bad.
So when the lights came up, I was frankly shocked to find that the rest of our group actually liked this movie. I was even more shocked later to find that the film was getting good reviews and that some of my friend’s whose opinions I respect also liked it. So what’s up with the wife and me? Can I suddenly no longer relate to mass market superhero fare? No, that can’t be it! I loved all the recent Marvel films and I thought The Avengers was probably the best superhero flick I’ve ever seen. So what gives with me and my wife?
But, before I get into all that, let’s discuss very quickly the plot. I assume most people who will read this have already seen, The Amazing Spider-Man by now so I’m not going to worry about revealing too many spoilers. In a nutshell, the film starts with roughly the standard Spider-Man origin story, but with a little added intrigue concerning Peter Parker’s parents. While breaking into a top secret lab in the Oscorp building, nerdy (but not really), super intelligent Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is bitten by a genetically altered spider and gains its strength and abilities. Not long after, he manages to finally land the girl of his dreams, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), and through a series of events ends up getting his Uncle Ben killed. In the comic books this is known as the “Parker Luck.” In the midst of all this nail biting pseudo drama, Peter finds some of his dead father’s hidden research papers, takes them to his dad’s old scientist partner (the one armed, Dr. Curt Connors, played by Rhys Ifans), and helps him complete a formula that rebuilds tissue using lizard DNA. Faced with pressure and threats from Oscorp lackey, Dr. Ratha (Irrfan Khan), Connors decides to test the formula on himself, regrows his arm, turns into a lizard man, and tries to turn everyone in New York into lizard people. Oh, and in between all that, there’s a lot of talking.
You may be thinking, “Aside from all the talking, as superhero stories go, that doesn’t sound all that bad.”
Let’s start with the Spider-Man origin story. Do we really need to show this again? Couldn’t it have been told as a montage recap like they did in the opening of The Incredible Hulk? Then we would have been able to hit the ground running with a brand new adventure, rather than waste the first half of the movie on a story we already know. Like other reviewers of this film, I can’t help but make comparisons to the Sam Raimi /Tobey Maguire film which handles the origin story better and is a million times more fun. In the Raimi film, Peter Parker initially has some trouble getting a handle on his new abilities, giving his character some vulnerability and allowing for some memorable comedic moments. In Amazing, Peter almost instantaneously masters his superpowers and in his first fight with some goons on the subway, appears to suddenly know martial arts. Apparently, spiders are born with an instinctive knowledge of Wing Chun.
Which brings us to one of the biggest problems with The Amazing Spider-Man: Peter Parker.
Now, although I am in no way a giant Tobey Maguire fan and found him to be a bit too mopey as Peter Parker, his character was by far more likable. I’m sure Andrew Garfield is a fine actor, but his Peter Parker comes off like Michael Cera doing a bad James Dean impression. He stutters and mumbles, and when not presenting himself as a caricature of awkwardness, he’s generally being a dick to his surviving family members. I understand that he’s supposed to a troubled teen still trying to cope with the death of his parents, but he appears blissfully unaware that his Aunt May (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) are pretty darn nice to him. Also, you’d think that after his uncle is killed, he’d change his ways a bit and be especially nice to his aunt. After all, her husband was just murdered, you self-obsessed little prick! Maybe in between superheroing, give her a call so she doesn’t worry. At least try to come up with a semi-convincing reason why you come home every night beaten and bruised. And bring home the eggs she asked you to get that she’s probably going to fry and then cry on. But, instead of staying home occasionally to console her, you have time to have dinner with your girlfriend’s family and pick a fight with her dad (Captain George Stacy played by Denis Leary) when he talks shit about your alter ego. So, why am I supposed to root for this guy? Oh wait, I forgot, because he does finally remember to bring home the eggs. Hooray.
In some other reviews I’ve read, critics have pointed out that in this film, Spider-Man is finally funny. You non-Spider-Man comic readers might not know this but, Spider-Man was always supposed to be funny. In the comic books, it’s one of the wall crawler’s most defining character traits. It’s his defense mechanism against all the darkness he has to face in his public and private life. During fight scenes, he quips all over the place like a super-powered Woody Allen…a younger, funnier, non-adopted-daughter-marrying Woody Allen. Although I give the new film credit for at least attempting this in one short scene, it just doesn’t work. The thing about Spider-Man’s humor is that his jokes are usually pretty clever. But in the scene where Spider-Man pretends to be afraid of the car thief and says, “You’ve found my weakness…small knives.” I found it to be the kind of joke a douchey bully would say, rather than a genuinely witty super-nerd. Less Spider-Man, more Jersey Shore.
The other performances in the film are adequate. Martin Sheen, Sally Field, Denis Leary, and Rhys Ifans are all good actors; it’s just their characters that I find bland and cliché. The one standout performance in The Amazing Spider-Man is Emma Stone as Peter’s girlfriend, Gwen Stacy. She’s funny, likable, gorgeous, and deserves to be in a better movie. While watching this film, I kept thinking I would have preferred a Gwen Stacy movie, a lighthearted chick flick about the trials and tribulations of being Spider-Man’s girlfriend. It could be based on the bestselling new book by Greg Behrendt, She’s Just Not That into Super Villains.
Even though I didn’t care for The Amazing Spider-Man, I don’t think Marc Webb is necessarily a bad director. I just think he was the wrong choice for this type of material. There is some excellent cinematography at times, but the overall mood is way too gloomy and the pace of the film is agonizingly slow. It seems like it takes forever to get to the superhero action, and when it comes, it’s brief and unimaginative. This whole tedious mess lacks any sense of genuine fun. I hope Mr. Webb takes a look at the best parts of the first two Raimi Spider-Man films before tackling any sequels. As for screenwriters James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, and Steve Kloves’ script, I am less forgiving. Aside from the numerous plot holes and crappy dramatic devices, we are forced to endure talky scene after talky scene filled with over sentimental dialogue that seems liked it was pulled out of some bad Twilight fan fiction…not like the good Twilight fan fiction that I write.
Now that we got all that out of the way, here are some logic, plot, and style issues I had with The Amazing Spider-Man that I now submit for your reading entertainment/annoyance…
– Why did it take Peter until the age of 16 to try looking up his father on the Internet? And why in hell would he use Bing?
– It’s pretty convenient that Gwen Stacy just happens to work at Oscorp…perhaps too convenient, Mr. Screenwriter.
– Peter steals another man’s pass to get into Oscorp, and wanders off after the girl he loves tells him not to? Did I mention he’s a dick?
– Security at Oscorp is pathetic! Why doesn’t Peter need to show a picture I.D. to get the pass that allows him into the lab doing the top secret research? Why are the locks on the lab doors so easy to hack? Where are the security cameras? Where are the security guards? Why are spiders allowed to roam free in the lab, rather than being contained in some sealed environment? Why doesn’t Peter later get arrested for breaking into a top secret lab after someone from Oscorp takes a look at the footage from the security cameras? Oh, that’s right, because there are no security cameras.
-The mystery concerning Peter’s parents isn’t properly dealt with. I hear there are some missing scenes out there that would have cleared things up. On the other hand, if this movie had been any longer, I think I would have killed myself.
– It takes Peter a ridiculously long time to realize he has a spider stuck to his neck. I freak out when hair gets down my back at Supercuts.
– If you’re wearing a costume to keep people from finding out your secret identity, why in hell when doing your superhero job would you carry around a camera with your name on it? And who puts a name tag on their camera anyway?
– Getting crane operators to position their cranes so Spider-Man can get across town easier is my new favorite scene that’s supposed to be inspiring but isn’t, in movie history. Why are crane operators exempt from a city-wide evacuation? Where do you construction workers go to learn crane choreography? And why that heavy handed music? James Horner’s over the top, pseudo patriotic score made me feel like the makers of this film wanted me to stand up in the theater and put my hand over my heart.
– With all the great CGI to be had these days, why did the Lizard look so crappy? At least make him look like he does in the comics, not like Michael Chiklis with psoriasis.
– Peter finally listens to the last phone message left for him by Uncle Ben, after he stormed out of the house because he was being a dick. What he hears is a sappy, undeserving pep talk where Ben calls Peter his “hero.” Sigh.
– Who knew there were that many stringy blond haired felons in New York? And why after all that trouble searching for his Uncle’s killer, does he just suddenly give up? I think he stopped looking right about the time he got a girlfriend. Men!
– A Spider-Man movie with no J. Jonah Jameson? That’s like Laurel without Hardy! Fred without Barney! Cheech without Chong!
-What happened to Dr. Ratha? After setting this guy up as a middle management villain and getting saved by Spider-Man, he disappears? Why? Fuck it, who cares!
– A vaccination mortar? Who could have possibly thought this was a good idea, let alone provide Curt Connors with the funding to get it made? Answer: Those screwball doctors at the 4077th M.A.S.H.
– After working on experiments using lizard DNA, wouldn’t it be pretty obvious to Peter that Curt Connors was the lizard? Then the next step would be, in the words of Gomer Pyle, “Citizens arrest!”
– Why does Peter call his girlfriend to tell her to get out of the city and yet doesn’t call Aunt May? Why doesn’t Aunt May call him? I think we know the answer to these questions…because he’s a dick.
– In a classic example of phony drama, Spiderman desperately hangs on to Doctor Curt Connors’ hand to keep from falling off the side of a building, apparently forgetting that he can stick to them.
– Toward the end of the film, Peter is worried about maintaining his secret identity yet seems to forget that he unmasked himself in front of a child, his girlfriend, random bystanders, and the entire New York City police department.
– Instead of deciding to ball up and go to Captain Stacy’s funeral, why does Peter give it a pass? Was it because he would feel awkward around Gwen or because he needed some time to himself to think up new ways to hurt Aunt May’s feelings?
– When Peter shows up late to class, he promises his teacher, “It will never happen again” to which she replies “Peter, don’t make promises you can’t keep.” Peter then whispers to Gwen, “But those are the best kind.” Gwen giggles, happy that Peter has decided to break the promise he made to her dying father and date her. I’m assuming this also means he will also be breaking his promise that he will only be having sex with her. So instead of, “With great power comes great responsibility” it’s “Fuck a good man’s dying wish to protect his daughter, I want to get laid!” DICK!!!
– During the credits, there’s an extra scene teasing a shadowy character that mysteriously appears in Curt Connors dark cell. Who is he? What is his connection to Oscorp? Is he Norman Osborne? Is he just a figment of Connors’ imagination? Why am I being subjected to yet another boring scene when I thought this movie had finally ended? And where’s Nick Fury when you need him?
There’s a lot more but I’ll stop here. Look, I know that, like my relatives, a lot of you people really liked this movie and that’s okay. There are some movies that I like that most people think are shitty. Zardoz anyone? Maybe when they reboot the Spider-Man films for the third time, we’ll get a Peter Parker that we can all like: A charming, intelligent misfit who’s angst ridden, funny, and not quite so dickish. I vote for Louie C.K.